Monday, October 31, 2011

hip hippy hooray

As I created a hippopotamus costume (or as my daughter calls them, "hippies") for our daughter's school assignment, I was amazed at the talent of the previous generations of Moms...how they had to create a costume with craftiness and ingenuity.  Before being able to just "look it up online" to get ideas.  Before Martha.  Before every single corner store on every block sold Halloween costumes in every shape, size, colour and level of cuteness (or grotesque).
This past weekend, I thought of my Mom and now fully appreciate all the fantastic costumes she had sewn for me. The Strawberry Shortcake costume.  The Princess Leia costume.  How this time of year must have felt daunting to create yet another "bright idea" from her children.  Yet, she did it every year with a smile, without complaints.  And I realize now, that before she ever had children, she came from a country where Halloween was absolutely foreign, and had to adapt to this strange North American tradition once she had kids.  She didn't know what it meant.  All she knew was that it made her kids happy to dress up in something fun (we had a rule in our house...nothing scary).  To make believe for one night, visiting neighbours, to be able to say hello in our new found "personality".
I know today, Halloween is quite sacrilegious to some people...and in my humble opinion, I  think they're missing the point.  I don't think it's a gateway to becoming a witch.  It's no different of a ritual than putting cookies out for Santa at Christmas.  We know it's not the reason...it's just an embellishment.  An imaginative folklore.  Although Halloween has evolved into something more commercial today, it is still all about the make believe (and arguably, the candy).  Nothing more.  I don't think I turned into a witch (although my husband may sometimes argue that one!)

As long as I continue the tradition of what my Mom started in our family...to make the meaning of these festivities more about the people.  The intention.  Greeting neighbours, neighbourhood kids getting together as friends, and of course, the thrill of the loot...as long as I keep that intention, I think our kids will turn out okay.



Hippopotamus Costume
This is a fairly easy costume that can be done with the kids as an arts and crafts activity.  The mask is a paper mache project and the costume is really a no-sew drawstring bag with armholes...easily done if you have kids who know how to tie knots.


Materials:

For the mask

  • Newspaper strips
  • Equal parts of glue, flour, water (approx. 1 cup each)
  • Grey paint
  • Balloons (approx. 9" or the size of child's head)
  • Elastic
For the body
  • Approximately 2- 4 yards of felt material, depending on the size of your child. (check out your local thrift store for remnants...I found my felt fabric for $4 for 4 yards!  Just wash first.)
  • Scissors


Directions:

For the Mask:
  1. Cut strips of newspaper, approximately 1 inch in width.
  2. Blow up the balloon. Gather all the materials.
  3. Create the "glue" by mixing equal parts of glue, flour and water.  I used approximately 3/4 cups of each.
  4. Wet the strips of newspaper with the glue and attach in layers on the balloon.  I only ended up using one balloon...for the snout, I attached scrunched up newspaper using the glued newspaper strips.
  5. Ensure that there are holes for the eyes, the side for the elastic bands to go through (to hold the mask onto the head).
  6. Creating mini cones with newspaper, attach as ears.  Scrunch up newspaper for the snout and attach.  Let dry overnight.
  7. When dry, paint with craft p.
  8. Attach the elastic bands to the holes.
  9. When the paint is semi-dry, paint the details
  10. Using a market, draw the snout.
For the no sew costume:

  1. Using a large piece of felt fabric, fold in half so it's approximately the size of the child. Cut one inch slits all the way down the open side.  
  2. Tie all the slits together, into double knots.
  3. Turn inside out, so the the "fringe" is on the inside (revealing the braid)
  4. Turn the fabric so the braid is on the back, and cut out the arm holes approximately 1 inch from the top.
  5. Cut the slits at the top, and then knot the two strips together.
  6. Fold the top and bottom approximately 2 inches, and cut slits approximately 1inch apart, all along the bottom and top.
  7. Taking a strip of 1 inch width ribbon (I used remnants of the fabric and cut strips), attach a safety pin to one end and weave through the slits along the top and bottom, creating a drawstring effect on the top and bottom of the costume.
  8. Pull the top drawstring and tie a bow on the front.
  9. Pull the bottom drawstring and tie a bow on the back (so it would look like at tail).


Hip Hippy Hooray...now this is done!


 {Attending these beautiful  parties... Homemaker on a DimeCoastal Charm, My Uncommon Slice of Suburbia and Tatertots & Jello, Nifty Thrifty Things, Fireflies and Jellybeans}

Friday, October 28, 2011

going nuts

A note from my daughter's class was sent home, announcing that they will have a "dress up as your favourite animal" day on Monday.

Normally, this would be an easy thing, seeing that there are a plethora of costumes available during this Halloween season.  Or, like most animal costumes, are easy to create with a few simple sewing or ingenious craft ideas.

What do you do, if your daughter's favourite animal is a HIPPOPOTAMUS?!?!  And there is no persuading to use existing costumes we have in her tickle trunk, like cats, bunnies or tigers? ("Those aren't my FAVOURITES, MOM!")

With both a birthday and a graduation party this weekend, as well as pre-planning our winter trip, I think this assignment is just ONE more thing to do this for this crazy nutty weekend...ugh!!!


At least dinner tonight will be nutty...in a good way!





Almond Crusted Chicken
I don’t like to fry our food but love the taste…so I adapted  Martha Stewart’s original recipe by using Panko bread crumbs and oven baked this (no pan searing) to make this crunchy. This makes an easy quick meal.  Here’s my adaptation…


Ingredients

  • ¾ cup Panko bread crumbs (found in the bread section along with regular bread crumbs)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 tsp. water
  • 4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 ½ cups sliced almonds, crushed into pieces
  • 2 tbsp. unsalted butter.
  • Salt, pepper and other seasoning (like Italian seasoning)

Directions
  • Preheat oven to 400degrees.
  • In a medium bowl, season Panko bread crumbs with salt and pepper and Italian seasoning
  • Place eggs in a small bowl with 2 tsp. of water, and beat lightly.
  • Dip the chicken in the egg.
  • Dip the chicken in the Panko bread crumb mixture.
  • Dip in the egg again.
  • Coat with almonds.
  • Place slivers of the butter in a cast iron skillet (or any oven proof skillet).
  • Place the chicken on top of butter.
  • Bake in the oven for 1 hour.
  • Serve.

Enjoy...and go nuts!!!




{This post linked to 33 Shades of Green}

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

travelling upstream



When we travel, we try to go on the road less travelled, and discover local foods and “hidden gems”.  Food is usually a big part of that road of discovery, and when we go north to the beach (or to ski in the winter), we go to the restaurants that aren’t really categorized as “family”, but have good organic, locally produced fresh foods.  



A nice little Italian trattoria in the Collingwood, Ontario area is Tesaro.  A real healthy (and absolutely delicious) alternative to the mass produced fair found in neighbouring Blue Mountain village.

Authentically Italian, with rustic sophistication, the kids usually enjoy “Chiaro” pizza (home made mozzarella with tomato and basil) and mussels (with white wine sauce). Last time we visited, my husband enjoyed the Chicken Parmigiano, and I enjoyed their local salmon with mango chutney, parmesan crusted bok choy, and coconut infused rice (a dish I must replicate someday!).  




As I think about the upcoming ski season, I'm craving the “Salmone” pizza (smoked salmon pizza). There are a lot of restaurants in the Collingwood/Thornbury area that serve salmon. There is a great restaurant in nearby Thornbury that overlooks a dam where you can watch salmon swim upstream.  This will do for now….until we travel north again this winter.


Smoked Salmon with Dill and Goat Cheese Pizza
(adapted from this Epicurious recipe)


Ingredients

  • 8 oz pizza dough (home made or prepackaged)
  • 3/4 cup packed chopped fresh dill
  • Olive oil and capers
  • 170g wheel of soft mild goat cheese (such as Chevrita), crumbled 
  • 1/2 cup chopped red onion
  • 4 ounces (125g or half pkg) smoked salmon, cut into 1-inch pieces


Preparations
  • Let dough rise in warm draft-free area until doubled, about 1 hour.
  • Preheat oven to 450°F. Lightly grease a12-inch-diameter pizza pan. 
  • Knead dough briefly on floured surface. Sprinkle 1/4 cup dill over and knead dough until dill is well incorporated. Roll out dough on lightly floured surface to 12-inch round. Transfer to prepared pan. 
  • Build up edges of dough to form rim. Brush dough lightly with olive oil. 
  • Sprinkle 1/4 cup dill over, then goat cheese. Top with onion. 
  • Bake until cheese melts and crust is golden brown, about 20 minutes.
  • Turn off oven.  Remove pizza and sprinkle smoked salmon, capers and remaining 1/4 cup dill all over.  Add a bit of mozzarella cheese.
  • Put back into still warm oven for 5 minutes, until cheese melts.


Monday, October 24, 2011

beside myself on the rocks


While going through some summer photos, I came across these, and started to remember this day that we went to the harbour.  It was the end of summer, and extremely hot.  I was hovering around my kids, paranoid, as they wondered along the rocky shoreline.  I must have sounded like a broken record, with the constant repetition of "be careful", and "don't go so fast".  A stranger looked at me like I was crazy, and I realized that at that moment, maybe I was sounding a little too paranoid.
I wonder if, as a parent, our behaviour towards our kids are based on the type of audience we have. Do we try to sound like “authoritative” figures when a judgmental stranger watches? I know some people would say that they don’t really care about what others think, but deep down, those are the very people who really do care.

I’ll admit it. Sometimes I use other’s reactions as a social monitor of sorts, to determine whether or not I am being too lenient or too harsh. It’s sometimes a person’s arm’s length perspective that can give me a reality check…that maybe I shouldn’t be so paranoid, even if at times, we seem to live in a world of doom and gloom. That when my kids want to climb on (relatively) safe rocks around the shoreline to get a better view, that they have the ability and courage to do so. And I don't need to hover, nag or worry.  Just let them be and trust their instincts.

I think the hardest part of being a parent is letting go. Maybe I need to learn to let go a little.

Or sometimes I wonder if I should just drink more.













Fruit Daiquiri
Ingredients
1/2 cup of ice
6 cups of frozen berries (strawberries, blueberries, even mango!)

1/2 cup of powdered sugar
3/4 cup of rum

Preparation
Blend the frozen fruit with sugar until the mixture becomes slushy.  Add rum.  Drink.

Friday, October 21, 2011

real men


When our son came home the other day, announcing that he was running for student council at his school...to be honest, I was a little worried. Knowing that he was in a class with a lot of girls who generally voted for each other, I worried that the probability was not in his favour, and I wanted to assure my son that no matter what the outcome, we were proud that he wanted to contribute to his school. And that we trust that he knows he has the leadership qualities to represent his peers, and support whomever was chosen to be the leader...to work together.



I think I was worried because I didn't want him to be discouraged of trying to succeed.  To lead.  I've heard a lot in the media lately, about how society in general, are failing our boys. That their success rate has fallen drastically behind the girls of their generation, and their creativity and drive are being stifled, intimidating boys from becoming leaders, to grow up and become "real men". (an interesting TED talk on this topic can be found here).

Having a daughter, I'm glad that we're in a society that allows girls to be empowered, and become leaders and critical thinkers. But I also want them to remember the boys too. I don't know exactly what the definition of what "real men" is...if it means strength, courage, honesty, intelligence, and empowerment, then I want BOTH my children, son and daughter, to become one.  Without using labels, defining what they "should" do based on their gender...like women "should" always be gentle (or eat dainty bites), and men "should" never cry (or never eat quiche).


I want to nurture each of their unique strengths, just like ingredients in a recipe, each with it's own characteristics...when working together, can make something wonderful.


And in my world, "real men" do eat quiche.


Quick Crustless Quiche
This is not technically a quiche because there is no pie crust, but instead, a bacon & cheese crumbling...however, it's quick and delicious.  It's a cross between a quiche and an omelette...and can also be great for breakfast...

INGREDIENTS:
   8 slices bacon
   ½ cup (4 oz) shredded Swiss cheese (or cheddar and parmesan)
   2 tablespoons butter, melted
   4 eggs, beaten
   1/4 cup finely chopped onion (red onion is nice with cheddar)
   1 teaspoon salt
   1/2 cup all-purpose flour
   1 1/2 cups milk

DIRECTIONS:
   Place bacon in cast iron skillet.  
•   Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes at 350 degrees, until evenly brown. 
•   Drain, crumble and set aside the bacon.
   In the meantime, lightly grease a 9 inch pie pan.
   Combine eggs, butter, onion, salt, flour and milk; whisk together until smooth
   Line bottom of pie plate with cheese and crumbled bacon; pour egg mixture into pie pan.
   Bake in preheated oven for 35-40 minutes, until set. 

Serve hot or cold.







Editor's note: We are proud to announce that our son was indeed, voted to be his class representative on the Student Council.



Wednesday, October 19, 2011

in the stars



As children get older, their interest in birthday parties evolve.  When they're young, it's all about the fun theme,  creative little loot bags, the cool cake and all the party noise and colourful wrapping paper.  Classroom sized parties with squealing children, laughing as they learn to get to know their new classmates at school.
These were loot bags from a previous "Wii Tournament" birthday party.
The Wii remote was printed and hand assembled out of paper...it held smarties!

Then they start to transition into more "relationship" type parties.  It's more about spending time with friends.  It's not about how many, but who they're with.  More meaningful time celebrating and sharing memories with good friends.

Part of me loves this new phase...but a little part of me misses the little party details, like creative invitations. Icing and decorating the cake. Assembling the party themed loot bags. I guess I miss the fantasy part of the parties.  Creating those little details involves part craftiness, part resourcefulness and lots of make believe.  When they get older, I guess I don't want them to lose that "make believe" part.  The magic of innocence and youth.

Although their birthday parties may change, I hope that no matter how old they get, they'll never lose their imagination, their innocent magical moments, and their dreams in the stars.


Star Wars themed Pull Apart Cake

This cake is as easy as making cupcakes...the cupcakes are "joined together" with the icing, and when serving (especially if you're doing a party outside of the home), easy to serve, without needed utensils).


Ingredients
For the cupcake/cake:
  • 1 cup white sugar 
  • 1/2 cup butter 
  • 2 eggs 
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract 
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour 
  • 1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder 
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • cupcake/muffin liners
For the icing:
  • 1 cup of butter
  • 1 1/2  cup of confectioner (or icing/powdered sugar)
  • 1/2 cup milk or whipping cream
  • 1/2 cup of boiling water
  • Vanilla extract (optional, to taste).
Preparation
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Line a muffin pan with paper liners. 
  • Cream together the sugar and butter. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, then stir in the vanilla.
  • Combine flour and baking powder, add to the creamed mixture and mix well. Finally stir in the milk until batter is smooth. Pour or spoon batter into the paper liners. 
  • Bake 20 to 25 minutes. Cupcakes are done when it springs back to the touch.
  • Let cool completely.
  • While the cupcakes are baking, make the icing.  Whip the butter with the sugar and cream, then add the boiling water slowly until desired consistency.
  • Assemble the cupcakes so the sides are touching, until you have a rectangular shape
  • Carefully spread the white icing all over the cupcakes, as you would a cake, until all the cupcakes are "attached" together with the icing.
  • Using a icing bag (or a ziplock with the corner cut off), ice the chocolate icing in rows to make the mask (use a picture as an example).


Eat with the birthday stars!


Monday, October 17, 2011

pretty in pink


It's amazing how having a little girl in your life can make you dream of sweet cupcakes, pink tutus and all things pink.  Before having a daughter, pink was not a colour I'd gravitate towards.

I  cut out the ballerina dress from inexpensive cards, and applied tissue pom-poms to the skirt,
to mimic a ballerina tutu.  Placed on popsicle sticks and inserted into sweet vanilla cupcakes
with sprinkles....sooo sweet!
Now pink is all I dream about.  Cute dresses.  Pretty birthday parties are filled with pink sweetness...oh so much sweetness.



Nothing is sweeter than a smile....pretty in pink!



Friday, October 14, 2011

on a roll

Sometimes I find it amazing how easily we can start on one path, say working on a craft, a project or a recipe, and plans deviate and you end up on a different path, making something else, something new.  I don't know if it's the way our society operates now...distracted, inundated, always something else on our mind.




Sometimes that distraction can take you to places that you've never ventured to before, and the results are fantastic.

A few weeks back, I mentioned a little restaurant, The Little Owl, that my husband and I discovered in Greenwich Village in NYC, while we were just walking around the neighbourhood.  We weren't really that hungry, but this restaurant's quaintness was so appealing, we had to stop by.

It was late brunch, and my husband had these melt in your mouth, never tasted anything like it before...meatball sliders.  Yes, meatball sliders.  

So, today, when I started making this fantastically easy meatloaf recipe I was testing, from the book, "Best of the Best" (best recipes from the 25 best cookbooks of the year), I remembered the Little Owl restaurant, and thought, why not turn these into meatballs.

Then, realizing I didn't have little buns, I came across this old Cornbread recipe.  Which I turned into Cornbread muffins/rolls.



With the tomato based meatballs, and the cornbread muffins, topped with havarti cheese, this was a fun new way to eat meatballs.  Sometimes you can discover an interesting new path, if you just.....roll with it.



Cornbread Meatball Sliders




The Cornbread "Rolls" (Muffins)
(I made these first, and then set aside before making the meatballs.  Can be kept in an airtight container for up to 2 days)

Ingredients
  • 2 cups cornmeal
  • 2 1/2 cups milk
  • 1 1/2 cup of flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/3 cup white sugar
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp. of salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup of vegetable oil
Preparation
  • Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  
  • In a small bowl, combine cornmeal and milk, and let sit for 10 minutes.
  • In a large bowl, mix flour, baking powder, salt and sugar.  
  • Mix in the cornmeal mixture, eggs and oil until smooth.
  • Pour batter into 12 muffin cups
  • Bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes or so, until knife inserted comes out clean.
The Meatballs
(adapted from the "Three Mom's Meatloaf" recipe from Stonewall Kitchens)


Ingredients




  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 1/2 pounds of ground meat (I used beef)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup plain bread crumbs
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon chilli powder (this pairs nicely with the cornbread flavour)
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley leaves
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme leaves
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • One 16-ounce can crushed tomatoes


Preparation

  • Preheat oven to 375°F.
  • Heat the olive oil in a medium skillet over medium-low heat. When hot, add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is soft, about 10 minutes. 
  • In a large bowl, combine the onion mixture, ground meat, eggs, bread crumbs, tomato paste, parsley, thyme, rosemary, salt, chilli powder, and a generous grinding of pepper, mixing well. 
  • Roll the meat into 2" balls, and place in  a 9 x  13-inch glass dish
  • Mix the tomatoes with 1 1⁄2 cups water in a small bowl and pour the sauce over the top of the meatballs.
  • Bake for 30 minutes, basting with the pan juices several times. Increase the oven temperature to 400°F, and bake an additional 30 to 40 minutes, basting every 10 minutes or so, for a total cooking time of 60 to 70 minutes.
For the sliders
Cut the cornbread rolls in half.  Place the meatball with some tomato sauce from the pan and top with a slice of havarti cheese (optional), and place on the cornbread.  Top with the top half of the roll, using a toothpick to hold it together, if needed.  Serve with crudite or salad.


Enjoy!


{This post is linked to 33 Shades of Green}


Wednesday, October 12, 2011

just the gravy


Sometimes holidays can be stressful, and getting caught up in the details can make gathering of family and friends...less festive.





After hosting Thanksgiving for so many years, I have the routine down pat and have menus, schedules and lists permanently on my computer to make everything run smoothly.  But what really has evolved over the years, is a solid sense of tradition.  A tradition of having Thanksgiving at our house.  Of being greeted at the door with the comforting smells of turkey, potatoes, and stuffing.  Everyone knows what menu to expect, what to bring, who will come.  Knowing that we'll be eating turkey for days afterwards.  The "same old, same old" has become something expected.  If something or someone is absent, they will be missed.


There is a sense of security with this...it allows the family to bond knowing that all the little details are taken care of, so we can focus on more important things, like being grateful to be able to spend time with each other.  It's not just about the food, or the table settings or the decor, but more importantly, about what happens around the table.  The laughter. The pleasure. The comfort.  

Because really...the turkey, the pumpkins, the pretty dishes...we'll that's just the gravy!


Herb Infused Turkey Gravy
This gravy is fantastic for post-Thanksgiving hot turkey sandwiches.


Homemade turkey stock
  • Giblets and neck reserved from the turkey (or left over turkey bones)
  • 3 sprigs of thyme
  • 3 sprigs of flat leaf parsley
  • 1 sprig rosemary
  • 3 tablespoons of unsalted butter
  • 2 stalks celery, coarsely chopped
  • 1 small carrot, coarsely chopped
  • 1 leek, white and pale green parts only, coarsely chopped and washed well
  • 1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
  • 1 fresh or dried bay leaf


For the gravy
  • 3/4 cup of homemade turkey stock, above
  • 3 tablespoons or reserved turkey drippings
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 4 tablespoons of flour


Preparation of stock
I usually make the turkey stock while the turkey roasts...if you're doing this after Thanksgiving, just save the bones from the carved turkey in the fridge and use it or the giblets the next day.  This can also be done in the crock pot.  Just put everything into the crackpot and simmer on high for 6-8 hours.
  • Pan sear the giblets and neck of the turkey
  • Bundle thyme, parsley, rosemary and tie with kitchen twine to make bouquet garni.  Set aside.
  • Melt butter over medium high heat, add celery, carrot, leak and onion and cook until soft.
  • Reduce heat to medium and add giblets, neck, bouquet garni, bay leaf and 4 cups of water.  Cover and bring to a boil, then uncover, reduce heat and cook for approximately 1 hour. 
  • Remove contents, but keep stock, refrigerated for up to 4 days.


Preparation of gravy
  • Melt butter in sauce pan.
  • Add flour, and stir until a paste.
  • Add reserved turkey drippings and continue to stir.
  • Add turkey stock and whisk, adding more or less until desired consistency.
  • Serve.


Make sandwiches with left over turkey, and pour gravy on top.




Monday, October 10, 2011

give us this day...



Our son wrote a poem about the Fall season at school, and I found it quite moving and apropos for today, Thanksgiving Monday.  Here's an excerpt...


Fall


Fall is a very balanced time of life. The air is never too hot or cold. The dirt is both wet and dry. The outdoors of fall is a blessed time.
It is a time of friends, family, school and fun. It gives you freedom and time to enjoy creation, like trees, grass and clouds. It's a fresh graceful time for learning and playing, planting and seeding, and especially living. When leaves fall and change colour and birds start singing songs, it is a sign of fall.

There are many different roots of fall like harvest, balance, world and grace. There are only a few bad things about fall like bugs and colds and allergies, but they all have their place in the fall.



The change of fall, the roots of fall, the cool of fall , the great of fall. It is an all important part of God's never ending, on-going, greatest, coolest, unimaginable, unforgettable universe, starting with the season of...Fall!!!


I think we have another writer in the family!


Happy Thanksgiving!!!